Hawai'i Mourns the Passing of Chief Judge Jim Burns

Mar 9, 2017

Chief Judge Jim Burns
Credit Wayne Yoshioka

Hawai’i is mourning the passing of Retired Chief Judge James Burns today.   HPR’s Wayne Yoshioka reports.

Retired Chief Judge James Burns, better known as Jim, was the youngest son of Hawai’i’s first Democratic Governor in 1962, John A. Burns.   Mother, Beatrice, was paralyzed and pregnant with Jim when a Japanese baseball player from the Athletics came to her aid.  She had a natural birth and Jim was given the middle name, Seishiro, after the baseball player.   But Jim’s idol was his father, who organized the 1954 Democratic Revolution and is credited with securing Statehood in 1959.

“Just watching him operate was an inspiration, definitely.  But also he always stressed – hey – whatever it is you wanna be, you have the opportunity to do it.  So that’s basically what he did.  All 3 of his children went to college and then I went to law school.  And then I came home.”

That conversation took place in 2009, Hawai’i’s 50th anniversary of Statehood.    Jim practiced law and was appointed a State District Court Judge in 1977and five years later, was named as the first Chief Judge of Hawai’i’s Intermediate Court of Appeals.  He served in that capacity until his retirement from the bench in 2007.    In 2008, his father’s legacy intersected with Hawai’i’s first born chief executive…

“I connect  President Obama to the Revolution of ’54.  The Revolution of ’54 led to the East West Center.  The East West Center led to his parents meeting each other – he’s a product of that – and then he grew up here.   Another connection.”

But what truly amazed him in 2014 were all of the dreams that materialized in his lifetime.

“To see it actually occur from the dream to the reality to actual beneficiary is just extraordinary for me to have been involved in that process.   I hear them talking about the medical school way back then in ’62.  And to see it now in actual operation and to see our young people going to medical school, graduating and actually most of my doctors are now graduates of this medical school.   Lawyers all over this town went to this law school that otherwise would not be lawyers.  And I practiced with them.  I’ve seen them appear before me.  I say, ‘Wow.’   I look back to when it started in ’62 and I said, ‘I don’t know if a could have really dreamed that it would be so successful.”

The Honorable Jim Burns was 79.  He’s survived by his wife, Emme Tomimbang and two adult children.  Wayne Yoshioka, HPR News.